It All Happens In The Dark

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“I have a deadline!”

Ringu (1998)

I’ve been meaning to watch this one for awhile. There are two distinct camps when it comes to Ringu – those that believe it is the better film and those that say the 2002 American remake is superior. I now know that I firmly fall into the latter group.

The Ring is remarkably faithful to the film that inspired it – many shots are recreated almost exactly and the story is basically the same. But the remake boasts an incredible performance from Naomi Watts (no surprise really, she never gives less than 110%) has a stronger visual palette and a more pronounced feeling of all consuming dread and awful inevitability. Even the cursed video in the 2002 film is more interesting – images from the tape recur in Rachel’s life and act as clues that aid her in uncovering the mystery. I do wonder if it may not have been more frightening if we never actually saw what was on the tape when the characters watched it, but that would probably prove to be more problematic than profitable.

In Ringu, Reiko Asakaw (Nanako Matsushima) is doing research on an urban legend about a cursed tape even before it comes to mean anything in her own life. When her niece dies under mysterious circumstances and she again hears about the video she begins to seriously look into it. Her ex-husband, Ryuji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada) is psychic and I am assuming because of his abilities, he has an easier time believing the story of the cursed tape than did his counterpart in the remake.

The back story is different here – Shizuko Yamamura (Masako) was a woman with psychic abilities that predicted a volcanic eruption on Izu Oshima Island before it happened. A doctor eventually came calling with an interest in recruiting Shizuko for experiments. Shizuko had a daughter with this doctor named Sadako (Inou Rie) who had strange abilities of her own – she could kill people at will. Shizuko eventually committed suicide by throwing herself into the volcano and Sadako was murdered by her father, who pushed her into a well over which a cabin was later built.

In the remake when the title cards appeared on the screen informing us what day it was it really felt like it was a countdown to the endgame – here it just feels like we are being informed of the date. And the way Sadako’s victims look when dead in this film is nothing compared to the gruesome Edvard Munch death faces on those Samara has claimed.

The character of Reiko’s son is never really developed – he’s around, he watches the tape – but he has no creepy connection to Sadako and his relationship with Reiko is really explored and lacks the interesting mother/son dynamics in the remake. The actress who plays Reiko isn’t awful, but she is certainly not Naomi Watts, and she has a tendency to allow her performance to tip over into a whining hysteria. Hers isn’t a character that is fully developed and we never really get to know much about her or really root for her.

A good example of the differences in the films and why I consider the remake an improvement can be seen in a comparison of the scenes in which the well is uncovered. In Ringu, Reiko and Ryuji go under the cabin’s porch, use a crowbar to pry off the stone lid and Ryuji used a rope to climb down.

In the remake, there is a palpable sense of desperation, of time running out, of supernatural shenanigans – the TV turning itself on, the water appearing, the nails coming up out of the floor, the rock being dropped to test the depth, the hoard of bugs that erupt out of the well, the wood collapsing and sending the TV barrelling into Rachel who is sent flailing down into the darkness.

And what was with Reiko and Ryuji trying to empty out the well a bucket at a time? It seemed like a device to try and orchestrate tension but just felt like pointless padding – tedious and a little silly.

One of the few things Ringu did do better was the discovery of the body in the well. In The Ring, Samara’s body comes to the surface as a pretty young girl that quickly decays in front of Rachel’s eyes. In Ringu, Reiko finds Sadako’s corpse and pushes the long black hair away and it literally peels off the skull – a gray and gross noggin with green stuff oozing out of the eye sockets.

Sadako is also a scarier creation than Samara because we never once see what Sadako looks like – not in life and not in vengeful spirit form – we just get a brief glimpse of her creepy crazy eye through her hair when she appears to claim Ryuji.

In the end Reiko discovers that she survived the curse because she made a copy and showed it to Ryuji – a chilling revelation in the remake, but one that here lacks almost any emotional punch. Reiko decides that she will get her father to watch the tape in order to save her son’s life. The way this is written in Ringu leads me to believe that she can show him the tape and then tell him that he needs to have someone else watch it in order to save himself. Perhaps I’m mistaken. The reason the ending of The Ring was so good, was because it seemed to go the exact opposite route, and hint at nondisclosure. At least that is how it felt to me, and I liked that darker ambiguity.

I’m actually a bit surprised Ringu became such a sensation as it really is a rather humdrum thriller without the artistic merits and depth that made the remake so enjoyable and eerie – I doubt that I’ll ever really be interested in watching this version again. The Ringu script has some interesting ideas, but seems perfectly content to just have them and not delve into their implications or examine them to a truly satisfactory extent. Thankfully we have The Ring to do that for us. C+


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